Those of us with a sense of the macabre developed as a shield to survive the cold environs of a radio newsroom wondered yesterday, who would be next?
Ed McMahon. Farrah Fawcett. Neither death unexpected. So the mind turns to, who’s sick? Never did we suspect the third celebrity to succumb in the “they always go in threes” routine would be Michael Jackson. And of a heart attack? It was entirely unpredictable.
Breaking news is a difficult beast. I know, I’ve done it. Before Jackson’s death was absolutely confirmed, every news organization was left to chew up air time with speculation, background info and tedious opinions from medical experts not involved with Jackson’s case. I thought the BBC was doing an amazing job. They managed to get Jackson’s close friend Uri Geller and kept their speculative filler to a minimum. That is, until they put live to air a Jackson fan living in Los Angeles to speak on behalf of LA residents. The CBC cut in with more sort of okay time wasting until the death confirmation finally came in, putting us all out of our ad-libbing misery with the focus back on facts.
I also watched CNN but I find Wolf Blitzer to be an insufferably arrogant bore with a Muppet voice. Plus, they were still saying Jackson had a bit of a cough when other news sources had already posted his obituary.
In other words, I followed this story like a newsie. Once a newshound always a newshound I suppose. But beyond that, an icon is dead. A man whose contributions to music are, in some respects, unsurpassed. A man whom many believe to be a child molester, despite his acquittal on those charges. A strange, chameleon-like man about whose 50 year lifespan new books are already being written. He was strange, sensitive, child-like, and claimed that being a father to his three children was his greatest accomplishment. What becomes of them now? Do the two older ones go back to their mother, the “vessel” who birthed them in exchange for support? Does the youngest go with them, for after all we know he was born in a beaker? Papparazzi, entertainment reporters and bottom feeders are licking their chops with the story possibilities that will keep them employed for the time being.
When Farrah Fawcett died earlier in the day we used the word “icon”. And she truly was. That poster – need I say more? Every boy I knew had either seen it or hung it in his room. But Jackson’s death has shown the limited appeal that even someone as beloved as Fawcett had in his shadow. Despite it all he is loved the world over and millions up on millions of children idolized him. The hit songs from Thriller are burned into our psyches like few other contributions to pop culture. For whatever he was, he was certainly a brilliant musician. That’s the only thing we can be sure of when it comes to defining Michael Jackson. And just for today, that’s enough.